Always

It’s common knowledge that I’m a sucker for a good love story. I’m all about the “happily ever after,” riding off into the sunset, the perfect kiss as the end credits start to roll, and whatever cheesy cliche you want to hang on the end of it.

But one thing that every great love story has in common is the inevitable crisis. There is some great struggle to overcome or circumstance that brings the relationship into jeopardy.

Why is that?

I suppose it’s because crisis is part of every human story.

A couple of weeks ago I had the amazing honor once again to conduct a wedding ceremony for one of my sons. As I led them through their vows I was struck again at the absolute of the phrase, “until death alone shall part us.” It is a pledge that, as long as I have any ability to choose, “I choose you.”

Always.

That’s an important word—always.

Andy Grammer put this idea to music in a crafty song by that title, “Always.” It’s worth a listen here. He owns up to the fact that there is so much that is beyond our capacity to control. He acknowledges that most everything changes. But look at how he put it:

Now, see, your clothes your shoes and your best friends
They ain't gonna stay the same
Your reckless years and your mistakes
I promise you, they fade away
But trust me, the one thing that nothing in this world can change
Hey, you and me will be always
Always, you and me will be always

That’s the promise we make when we walk that wedding aisle, isn’t it? It is to be always. It doesn’t say we’ll be always perfect or always happy or even always in agreement. But we pledge to be always.

Over the years I have challenged couples to walk into marriage with the determination that this joining of lives will end in a cemetery instead of a courthouse. Sounds easy enough. But to decide and to live out the decision for a lifetime to be always together… that’s a big ask.

But that’s the way this whole marriage thing is supposed to work. It’s supposed to be always—as long as both partners have breath in their lungs. But I think I’m really just beginning to understand why that was the design in the creation of marriage to start with.

When I read the Scriptures, I am struck by the significance of this unique relationship. The Story unfolds it and develops it into a cornerstone of the human experience and the intended means by which mankind would follow the Designer’s instruction to “be fruitful and multiply” and to “fill the earth and subdue it.” (And that was before we messed it up – we already had a job to do.)

But as the Story moves forward, we begin to see God use this most crucial human connection to show us how He wants to be in relationship with us. He went so far as to identify the collective of all who would embrace His offer of life as a bride for His beloved Son.

That beloved and only Son, Jesus, came and lay down His life to give us life. He rose from the grave. Then, just before He ascended to heaven to prepare a place for us, His bride, He made a promise:

“Behold, I am with you always.”

Or maybe it could have been translated, “You and me will be always.”

Work Song: A Resurrection Story

I don’t know why.

I just love this song.

I suppose it’s because it sounds a lot like me in some ways.

Hozier’s “Work Song” is a strange piece of music. I suppose that’s Hozier’s thing. But it takes a subtle rhythmic grip on me.

But the lyrics are a mixture of dripping sweetness and grave self-awareness.

My baby’s sweet as can be, she give me toothaches just from kissin’ me
I was three days on a drunken sin

You might want to give it a listen.

That unique juxtaposition is part of what attracts me. The absurdity of some of the claims rival the most trite of love songs. When you consider the chorus, you see the hyperbole that simply underlines the depth of the love he is striving to express.

When my time comes around
lay me gently in the cold dark earth
No grave can hold my body down
I’ll crawl home to her

You hear these words and you know that it’s a deliberate overstatement of the reality it’s meant to express.

But there’s something deeper here that stands out to me that I suspect was richer than even the lyricist had intended. The idea that this human love can endure even the separating chasm of death is a stretch even for a dreamer like myself. But the notion that there is a love deep enough to overcome the grip of the grave is not simply a stretch.

It’s truth.

As a follower of Jesus, I understand that Jesus was God in the flesh. God came near and lives the perfect life that none of us could possibly live. Then Jesus lay His own body on a cross to endure the penalty of death that you and I deserve because of our selfish hijacking of our life from the One who made us for Himself.

Jesus’ lifeless body was placed “in the cold dark earth,” (to borrow Hozier’s expression). But, in something so very much more than an expressive dramatization, Jesus did rise from that grave.

But there’s more. The Scriptures unfold for us the plan for Jesus to return some day and gather His beloved, His Church, to Himself and take us out of this mess.

I know that this was probably not on Hozier’s mind when he penned these lyrics, but he is overstating a love that, in his human brokenness (just like the rest of us), he wants to be true—that he could crawl right out of the grave to return to his beloved. But, as I hear these words, my mind is drawn to the promise of the One who died for me. Because He died and conquered the grave for me, out of His incredible love for me, is preparing a place in His own presence for me.

SO… in a very real way, when my time comes around and my body is placed in the cold, dark earth, my spirit will fly on home to my Beloved. And then one day my body will join—having been instantly transformed to be like Jesus’ own glorious body—to spend forever in a state of everlasting wonder and peace.

But the wonder of all of this is not even the overcoming of the grave. In fact, the second verse of Hozier’s work paints a picture I want to draw to your attention.

Boys when my baby found me
I was three days on a drunken sin
I woke with her walls around me
Nothin’ in her room but an empty crib
And I was burnin’ up with fever
I didn’t care much how long I lived
But I swear I though I dreamed her
She never asked me once about the wrong I did

Hozier expresses here a picture of what I believe is the greatest wonder in all of the Story. It is the wonder of grace.

Just like his description, my Beloved, my Savior, came to my rescue when I was wallowing in the gravity of my sin. When I accepted His help, all of the mess, all of the sin, all of the self-absorption was washed away.

It wasn’t that I was worthy or even worth it. It sure wasn’t that I was good enough. It was entirely out of His own character. He gave me a new life that will not end in a grave. It’s going forever beyond that.

No grave can hold my body down.

I’ll be raised to be with Him.

Now… I think this is a great song. But it’s what it points me to that strikes such a chord in me. But, at the same time, it makes me think a great deal about the most powerful earthly gift I’ve been given—my partner, my helper, my refuge here in this world. And when Hozier sings about crawling home to his love even out of the grave, I get it. I’m that kind of crazy in love with my girl too.

But that love was a gift with a higher purpose. It was given me to help me see here a glimpse of the more wondrous, more powerful, everlasting intimacy for which we were made.

That makes me want to simply hold her close and give thanks.

I think I shall.

But Wait… There’s More

I have on a number of occasions been in a position to sit with a family while they conferred with a doctor about the difficult diagnosis of their loved one. In those moments it is important for me to listen well to what is said and to help make sure the family is not simply listening with their emotions. In such times it is often very difficult to swallow the news and the pain of the situation can keep us from understanding clearly what is going on.

In times like those, I have witnessed some wise doctors trying to be as plain and simple as possible. I’ve even seen a few instances where they had a nurse come with them or an assistant that might be better at explaining things in a more understandable or accessible way. Its an important role to help them understand, amidst the all of the emotion of the moment, what is really being explained to them.

When Jesus was preparing his disciples for His pending departure, He was trying to prepare them by assuring them that their circumstances, thought they could not understand it yet, would be better. He has assured them of the coming of His helping, comforting Spirit to dwell in them—which is most certainly better.

But Jesus offered more insight:

I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth, for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. He will glorify me, for he will take what is mine and declare it to you. All that the Father has is mine; therefore I said that he will take what is mine and declare it to you. (John 16.12-15)

It must have been overwhelming to them. The things Jesus was telling them, though they sounded like amazing promises, were surely strange and uncomfortable for them to hear. But do you see what He promised that the Spirit would do?

The Spirit would guide them into truth and help them to recognize what was and was not from God. He would speak anew to their hearts so many of the things Jesus had said to them already but could not possibly understand.

The Spirit would, according to Jesus’ teaching here, always shine the light on Jesus the Son according to the very will of God the Father. The Spirit would be their means of having an all-the-time and everywhere connection with Jesus. The Spirit would help them see, understand, and process things through the lens of spiritual truth.

So Jesus was promising His disciples that, with the Holy Spirit living within them, they would have an ongoing relationship with God that could not be separated by distance or circumstance… or even by death.

But did you notice how that passage started? He said, “I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now.” He had imparted to them so many rich, powerful, wonderful truths… but their tender hearts couldn’t stand much more.

Though He taught them much about how things would be, He seems to say, “But wait… there’s more.”

Walking with Jesus—which every one of us as believers in Him are called to do—is a life of hearing that sentiment time and time again.

He has blessed us so incredibly much with life and breath and wonderful people with which to share the journey.

But wait… there’s more.

He has given us the Scriptures, His very Word, to help us know Him.

But wait… there’s more.

He has promised us a home with Him forever without fail.

But wait… there’s more.

He has promised to place His Spirit within us to teach us, guide us, and show us the way.

But wait… there’s more.

How has He lavished His love upon you today?

Wait… there’s more.